In our Hunter one-name study, the General Register Office is a great place to find data on births, marriages, deaths, occupations (especially researching the medical field), and family patterns of morbidity and mortality prior to general registration. When did doctors first start to take over classification of death on death certificates?
When national registration was set up the medical profession must have helped construct the ‘nosologies’ categories of causes of death to be used. From the beginning if people had a medical attendant at death then the doctor would inform the Registrar in a signed statement. But the bulk of the population did not. Three parties were involved here, the original informant using ‘folklore’, the Registrar trying to make that into something acceptable to write on the certificate and the clerks in London who have to put it into a category. The history of death registration shows the medical profession slowly becoming involved but always using the current ‘nosology’ of the ONS. Once we had the NHS everyone had a GP but the informant was still a member of the family.
The classifications; the ‘Nosologies’ changed with increased medical knowledge and are still changing ie what is happening to calculation of Corvid deaths.
The next of kin of the dead one are required, when they can, to report a death. Certificates post 1870 began to detail the relationship.
“Old Age” is no longer accepted as cause of death. This category was originally used in 1837 but no longer is this category seen.
There are two books added to my library:
People Count A history of the General Register Office by Muriel Nissel (1987) and An Atlas of Victorian Mortality by Robert Woods & Nicola Shelton.